Yanks' first win at new home must wait
Bullpen follows solid Sabathia with performance to forget
NEW YORK -- When the new Yankee Stadium operations crew finally shut down their state-of-the-art scoreboard late Thursday afternoon, the act seemed more merciful than anything else. On a day when the Yankees were here to celebrate their new ballpark, to celebrate their home opener and to celebrate -- of all things -- the Yankees, they ditched that celebratory mood in a hurry.
Instead, it was the Indians who shook hands and high-fived on the Yankees' new field, parlaying a nine-run rally into a 10-2 win.
And so 86 years after Babe Ruth christened the old Yankee Stadium with its first home run, and 33 years after the Yankees rapped out 11 runs in the opening of their renovated park, it was Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez who made their marks.
"That's not what we hoped for today," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Oh, the Yankees had their moments. There was the pregame ceremony starring Yankee greats of generations past, and a sold-out crowd enjoying this as much as anyone. There was Jorge Posada, who put his Ruthian mark on the Stadium with the park's first home run in the fifth.
But as captain Derek Jeter noted after the game, Posada's blast will go down in the history books as nothing more than the answer to a trivia question. Sizemore's grand slam, the most memorable blow in a nine-run surge, was what spoiled CC Sabathia's start, what emptied the stands and what stuck with the Yankees after the game.
"Very disappointing, obviously," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We wanted to come out and have a great game for the fans and win."
Thoughts of that latter goal vanished in the seventh inning, when reliever Jose Veras entered a tied game and proceeded issued a leadoff walk to Mark DeRosa.
"When you start off the inning with a walk, usually bad things happen," Girardi said. "And it got real bad."
So bad that by the time Martinez and Jhonny Peralta had doubled, Shin-Soo Choo had walked, Ben Francisco had reached base on a botched fielder's choice and Kelly Shoppach had singled, the rally wasn't even half over. That all came with no outs. And with one out, Sizemore blasted a Damaso Marte pitch over the short porch in right field, plating four Indians and pushing the Yankees out of contention.
Martinez added a home run of his own later in the inning, extending Cleveland's margin to nine. And against Lee, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, the Yankees got only one of them back.
"When you give up nine," Girardi said, "it's hard to watch."
So imagine how Sabathia felt, sitting helpless on the bench. Facing his old team, the Indians, for the first time since the trade that sent him to Milwaukee last summer, Sabathia allowed only one run in 5 2/3 innings. But the Indians so vexed him with their disciplined approach and lengthy at-bats that Sabathia had thrown 122 pitches in that span.
|1. U.S. Cellular Field (1991) -- Tigers 16, White Sox 0|
|2. Great American Ball Park (2003) -- Pirates 10, Reds 1|
For a normal pitcher, that's a massive total at this point in the season. Even for Sabathia, a much-publiicized workhorse, the pitch count seemed high. It turns out that only once in his life had Sabathia thrown that many pitches in a game before July -- and he did it in late June. In mid-April, at a time when pitchers are still getting stretched out to their normal levels, throwing 122 pitches is rare.
"I'll throw until they come get me," Sabathia said. "I was ready to face the next guy."
"We don't feel that 120 is really out of his realm," Girardi said, noting that Sabathia threw 108 pitches in his previous start. "He's a big, strong man. He's done it numerous times in his career. It's not a young guy that's not used to doing that."
Whatever the rationalization, or whatever effect it may have on Sabathia down the line, the fact remains that the gamble didn't work. Sabathia did do his job, striking out Shoppach to quell a rally in the sixth inning. But then the bullpen entered, and the home opener fell to pieces.
It wasn't what Jeter, Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera -- the only remaining players from the Yankees' four World Series championship teams last decade -- had in mind when they drew up the blueprints for this day, which otherwise included all the pomp and circumstance the Yankees have come to expect.
It was, instead, a reminder that there's business beyond the new building at 161st St. and River Ave. in the Bronx. There are 152 games left to be played, many of them in arguably the toughest division in baseball. There's another game Friday, in fact. And there's that matter of the Yankees not making the playoffs last season for the first time in more than a dozen years.
On this day, home opener or not, the Yankees made mistakes.
"And they took advantage of it," Jeter said. "That's what good teams do."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.